In my role as a Library Media Specialist, I have the privilege of spending time in many different classes and collaborating with teachers in a variety of ways. In my position, collaborative teaching is based on specific needs in a class or department, rather than on the stipulations of an assignment or master schedule. For instance, a teacher might approach me to co-teach a lesson on using and citing sources in academic writing; to collaborate on integrating information literacy skills into a new unit; or to work intensively with a few students on strategies for reading nonfiction. Although I don’t consider myself an expert on the subject of collaborative teaching, it is a skill which I have the opportunity to exercise frequently and in which I’ve done some reading and research.
In this post, I will use “collaborative teaching” and “co-teaching” more or less interchangeably. By these terms, I mean coordinated instruction that is done by two or more educators simultaneously with a given group of students. In some cases, co-teaching is done by a general education teacher and a special education teacher, but the practice is much more far-reaching and adaptable.
There are many benefits to collaborative teaching, some of which you may have encountered in your own experience. Anne Beninghof, the author of Co-Teaching That Works: Structures and Strategies for Maximizing Student Learning, writes that benefits for students include improved instruction, enhanced differentiation, and increased access to teacher support. Not to be overlooked is the benefit to teachers that Beninghof emphasizes: professional growth (10-13).
In every school community, there are many people with skills and knowledge different from our own. Through collaborative teaching partnerships, we can tap into these resources and provide our students with deeper and richer learning experiences. Possible co-teaching partners might include: instructional technology specialists, library media specialists, gifted and talented specialists, literacy specialists, instructional coaches, counselors, social workers, success coaches, EL teachers, special education teachers, other general education teachers, minority liaisons, administrators, paraprofessionals, parents or community members, or even students. If you find yourself struggling with an instructional dilemma or content snafu, or are just looking for a new teaching experience, consider reaching out to one of these individuals in your school community.
Collaborative Teaching Models
There are numerous models to depict the array of collaborative teaching tactics. Beninghof describes nine different models for co-teaching in her book, detailing pros and cons for each. However, in the interest of simplicity (and brevity!), I tend to refer most often to the six approaches described by Marilyn Friend in her book Co-Teach! A Handbook for Creating and Sustaining Effective Classroom Partnerships in Inclusive Schools. These models are:
One Teach, One Observe
In this practice, one instructor observes the goings-on of the classroom and collects data either formally or informally on a pre-arranged area of focus. The roles may also reverse at some agreed-upon point. It is key that the two teachers debrief following the lesson. This tactic is often used in instructional coaching practice, but does not have to be exclusive to this relationship. Perhaps creating an opportunity for an EL teacher or technology integrationist to observe your lesson would assist in devising new ways to reach your students.
In this practice, each instructor presents different content to a smaller group of students. Additional stations may have students working individually or in small groups. The groups may rotate to each station or the stations may be devised to present differentiated instruction to specific groups of students. Although stations may occur within the same classroom, an alternate version is to have spaces designated in several places in the building (such as in the classroom and the Library Media Center). I’ve had success with teaching an isolated research skill like note-taking as an intervention or extension activity for students selected based on their point of need.
With parallel teaching, both instructors simultaneously present the same material to a divided portion of the class. This model may be selected in order to differentiate instruction, to facilitate a small-group discussion, or to provide students with more focused attention from a teacher.
This model features a small group of students working with one teacher while the other instructor teaches the majority of the class. This style of co-teaching can create scenarios in which students can catch up on missed content, receive supplemental instruction, and receive highly focused customization. This model is commonly employed with various specialists as they call pull out students for targeted work on academic, behavioral, or social skills
This approach is often considered to be the most challenging to implement, as it involves wholly shared responsibilities for planning, teaching, re-teaching, and assessing. This model embraces the diversity of skills and aptitudes brought by each instructor, while ensuring each has opportunity to shine. Successful implementation of this model results in a classroom and lesson that are shared equally between two individuals.
One Teach, One Assist
In this model, there is a clear lead teacher whose instruction is supplemented by the expertise of another. Often this approach results in one teacher leading the lesson while the second instructor circles the classroom to provide clarification and support, as needed. Sometimes I am invited into this model when a teacher feels a lack of confidence in their knowledge of a particular topic (such as the recent changes to the MLA citation style and handbook).
These six models do not exist in silos, and teachers may move among several different approaches in a given unit, week, or even in a single lesson. The selection of one co-teaching model over another can be based on the skills or personalities of the teachers involved; the time available for planning and implementing the lesson; and the specific needs of the students. Ideally, collaborators consider all of these elements before selecting instructional strategies.
Challenges and Opportunities
Collaborative teaching can create deep learning experiences for students, but I’ve found that it seldom requires less planning time than developing a lesson in isolation. However, my most rewarding teaching experiences are those in which I had the opportunity to collaborate deeply with a colleague who possessed very different skills and knowledge than I. Together, we planned, created, and delivered material that neither of us could have created individually. If you find yourself overwhelmed by the prospect of co-teaching, perhaps dip your toe in by approaching a trusted colleague and brainstorming new ways to approach a single objective or lesson.
In Interactions: Collaboration Skill for School Professionals, Marilyn Friend and Lynne Cook emphasize that the strong collaboration is voluntary, based on mutual goals, and dependent upon shared responsibility and strong communication (6-11). Above all, collaborators should share a desire to improve the learning experience for their students. With this as the starting place, flexibility and cooperation flow naturally, and meaningful student learning abounds.
This post brought to you by Ellen Range, Media Specialist at Century High School
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